Netanyahu finalises govt team for Israel parliament vote

AFP , Thursday 14 May 2015

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives to a Likud party meeting at parliament in Jerusalem May 11, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing on Thursday to put his proposed cabinet line-up to a confidence vote in parliament, where his coalition commands a razor-thin majority.

After two months of coalition horsetrading, Netanyahu was to present his government for a vote of confidence at the Knesset in a session which begins at 1600 GMT.

The lineup is dominated by rightwing and religious parties and commands a slender majority of 61 of the parliament's 120 seats, with commentators warning it was vulnerable to the slightest headcold or whim of a disgruntled MP.

Netanyahu's new administration marks a shift to the right by giving increased prominence to Naftali Bennett's far-right Jewish Home, which opposes a Palestinian state and strongly backs settlement activity.

The move looks likely to complicate Israel's already damaged relationship with the Palestinians and further strain ties with the international community.

Earlier this week, the coalition passed its first test of strength after managing to pass an amendment to a law which would have limited the number of ministers serving under Netanyahu to 18.

The amendment was crucial for Netanyahu to have a free hand in being able to hand out enough portfolios to senior members of his rightwing Likud party, in a process which began immediately after the bill passed its final reading on Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu's five-party alliance was built over weeks of intensive negotiations which saw him forced to hand out senior ministerial portfolios to coalition partners in a move which has fostered resentment in his own party.

On Thursday, Netanyahu was putting the finishing touches on his new administration by allocating portfolios and the chairmanship of Knesset committees to Likud.

Ahead of the ceremony, a document outlining the guidelines of Netanyahu's new coalition was presented to the Knesset that showed a focus on reducing the cost of living and increasing competition within the Israeli economy.

There was no mention of efforts to advance a two-state solution or a Palestinian state, with the guidelines including a vague pledge "to advance the diplomatic process and strive to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and all our neighbours."

On the eve of the March 17 election, Netanyahu promised there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, in remarks which triggered a diplomatic backlash.

Although he has since sought to backtrack, reviving the peace process is unlikely to be a priority for his new cabinet, which features several ministers bent on expanding settlement construction on land that the Palestinians want for a future state.

One is the justice minister designate, Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home, who has drawn fierce criticism for her outspoken views on the Palestinians and her attempts to advance legislation criticised as anti-democratic.

There are 15 Likud MPs vying for 12 ministerial positions and by midday (0900 GMT), the allocation of portfolios was beginning to take shape.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon was to keep his portfolio, as was Yisrael Katz, who has served as transportation minister since Likud won the 2009 election.

Katz would also receive the intelligence portfolio, which was formerly held by Yuval Steinitz, who would become energy minister and also continue to coordinate Israel's position on Iran and its nuclear programme, the party said.

Both Katz and Steinitz will be members of Israel's powerful security cabinet.

Since Avigdor Lieberman relinquished his position of foreign minister and dropped a political bombshell by withdrawing his hardline anti-Arab Yisrael Beitenu from the coalition talks, Netanyahu has reportedly kept the foreign affairs portfolio for himself.

Israeli media reports said the main outstanding dispute was over what position would be given to Gilad Erdan, number two on the Likud list who served as interior minister in the last government.

But senior Likud officials quoted by Haaretz newspaper said they were not worried that disgruntled ministers would try to sabotage the coalition.

"No Likud MK will try to topple the government because of a position he hasn't received," a senior official told the paper, saying Netanyahu would find ways to compensate them.

"He can give them the title of deputy prime minister .... or deputy minister without appointing a minister above them."

The coalition groups Likud, which won 30 seats in the election, with the centre-right Kulanu (10 seats), Jewish Home (eight) and the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas (seven) and United Torah Judaism (six).

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